Ph.D. Advising


The Allen School's Ph.D. process consists of three main components:  coursework, research, and thesis preparation:  Each Ph.D. student:

  • will take courses from an array of graduate topics covering core skills across the different types of thinking and research approaches that are relevant to the field of computer science, 

  • will develop and refine their research skills; these skills include information analysis and synthesis as well as written and verbal presentation capabilities, 

  • and will, of course, conduct original research!


There are three key milestones during the Ph.D. process: the Qualifying Evaluation, the General Exam and the Final Exam (thesis defense).

The purpose of the Qualifying Evaluation (“Quals”) is to make sure that each student has demonstrated the potential to complete a high quality Ph.D. This is shown by successfully completing at least five graduate level courses (see quals section) and by performing and presenting the results of a high quality research project. Each student will also need to find a permanent research advisor before passing Quals. 

Once a student passes Quals, they will typically also earn their Master’s degree and begin the second main portion of their doctoral work.  During this period, a student will focus on more intensive research efforts aimed at defining and intellectually pursuing a specific thesis topic. In addition, each student will need to complete the Breadth portion of the coursework if they have not already done so.  During the last two months of this period, General Exam activities begin.  These involve the analysis of assigned thesis-related research papers or a thesis proposal, the preparation of a written report based on that work, and the presentation of findings to a select audience. 

Passing through the General Exam gateway, which culminates in a Candidacy of Philosophy, lets a student begin thesis preparation.  It is in this stage that all of the skills a student has  learned up to this point are synthesized and applied as they carry out the research that will form the core of their thesis. The final step consists of writing  the complete dissertation document and orally defending the dissertation before an examination committee. The Doctoral Reading Committee may require document changes after the oral defense. The successful culmination of these activities yields a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree.

Through all these activities, students can expect to receive the support and guidance of our graduate advising team,  one or more faculty research advisors, many mentors and friends, and a collegial and success-oriented department. We wish to ensure that each student has a positive and highly productive experience, and is fully prepared to be successful in whatever career they choose to seek post Ph.D.

Of course, the actual doctoral process contains a myriad of academic requirements:  credit and course requirements, TA requirements, specific procedures and deadlines, and built-in progress reviews. These are described thoroughly in the pages of this section.  

Credit & Course Requirements


There are four objectives to our course requirements:

  • To ensure that each student obtains Breadth at both the undergraduate and the graduate level. 

    • Undergraduate-level breadth: The purpose of this requirement is to make sure that any student that did not complete an undergraduate degree in Computer Science or Computer Engineering (or equivalent) has at least undergraduate level breadth of knowledge in these areas prior to passing the Qualifying Exam.  

    • Graduate-level Breadth: To gain this, students will take graduate-level courses that expose them and help them develop core skills across the different types of thinking and research approaches that are relevant in the field of computer science.   

  • To gather information on the student's potential to complete the Ph.D. program, collected over an extended period of interaction between the student and instructors. The latter information will be used in the Qualifying Evaluation as described below.

  • To enable each student to obtain depth in their chosen research area by taking advanced courses.

Allen School Course Requirements

A total of 7 graded courses (including up to 2 course waivers) from the following lists are required:

Breadth Courses (formerly Quals classes)

5 of these courses are required and must include courses from at least 3 of the 4 Groups. At most one waiver will be granted for a Breadth course.

  • Group 1: Theory, Mathematical, & Formal Reasoning

    • CSE 521: Algorithms for all

    • CSE 525: Randomized Algorithms

    • CSE 526: Cryptography

    • CSE 531: Complexity

    • CSE 535: Theory of Optimization and Continuous Algorithms 

    • CSE 515: Statistical Methods 

    • CSE 546: Machine Learning 

    • CSE 505: Programming Languages

    • CSE 507: Computer-aided Reasoning

    • CSE 552: Distributed Systems

  • Group 2: System Design & Implementation

    • CSE 550: Systems for All 

    • CSE 551: Operating Systems

    • CSE 552: Distributed Systems 

    • CSE 561: Networks

    • CSE 562: Mobile Systems & Applications

    • CSE 564: Security

    • CSE 501: Compilers 

    • CSE 503: Software Engineering 

    • CSE 544: Databases

    • CSE 548: Computer Architecture

    • CSE 549: High-performance Computer Architecture

    • CSE 567: Principles of Digital System Design

  • Group 3: ML/AI, Interacting with Data, & Statistical Applications

    • CSE 546: Machine Learning 

    • CSE 541: Interactive Learning

    • CSE 542: Reinforcement Learning

    • CSE 543: Deep Learning

    • CSE 547/STAT 548: Machine Learning for Big Data

    • CSE 573: Artificial Intelligence

    • CSE 515: Statistical Methods

    • CSE 517: Natural Language Processing

    • CSE 527: Computational Biology

    • Genome 540: Computational Molecular Biology

    • CSE 512: Data Visualization

    • CSE 571: Robotics

    • CSE 556: Fabrication

    • CSE 557: Graphics

    • CSE 562: Mobile Systems & Applications

    • CSE 576: Vision

    • INSC 571: Quantitative Methods in Information Science

  • Group 4: Human-facing

    • CSE 510: Human-Computer Interaction 

    • CSE 512: Data Visualization

    • CSE 556: Fabrication

    • CSE 557: Graphics

    • CSE 564: Security

    • CSE 5xx: Computer Science for Social Good

    • HCDE 544: Research Methods I

    • HCDE 545: Research Methods II

    • INSC 570: Research Design

    • INSC 571: Quantitative Methods in Information Science

    • INSC 572: Qualitative Methods in Information Science

CSE++ Courses

2 additional courses are required from the following lists:

  • Graded Ph.D.-level courses numbered 500 and above in CSE (including courses from the Breadth list)
  • Graded Ph.D.-level  courses numbered 500 and above in related disciplines such as: ECE, MATH, A MATH, HCDE, iSchool, STAT, LINGUISTICS, and GENOME.
  • We do maintain a list of pre-approved courses from disciplines not included in the options above. Courses not on the list may be approved on a case-by-case basis. Students who wish to request approval for additional courses should contact the Director of Graduate Student Services.

The course requirements are further subdivided based on the milestone by which they must be completed. 

HCDE 544 and INSC 571 cannot both be used towards completion of the required coursework. 

HCDE 545 and INSC 572 cannot both be used towards completion of the required coursework.

Required Timing for Coursework Completion:

Coursework requirements for passing Quals

    • Successful completion of at least 3 UW CSE courses out of the required Breadth Course list. There is no requirement for how these 3 courses are distributed across the 4 Breadth Groups.

    • Successful completion of least 5 of the 7 required Breadth and CSE ++ Courses.

    • Breadth at the undergraduate (or higher) level by either:

      • Completing a Bachelor's degree in Computer Science and Engineering (or equivalent) , or

      • Taking graduate courses covering 3 of the 4 Breadth Groups, or

      • Taking 3 additional 400 level courses in Computer Science and Engineering. For details, see section on undergraduate breadth.

The most common way to satisfy all of the above requirements will be for a student to complete all 5 Breadth Courses, covering at least 3 of 4 Groups before passing Quals. However, each student should consult with their advisor as to the appropriate choice of coursework and timing thereof. Keep in mind that each advisor has their own expectations vis a vis their student’s coursework.

Students may waive at most one of the Breadth and CSE++ Courses required to pass Quals. However, even with a waiver, they must complete at least 3 of the Breadth Courses at UW prior to passing Quals. See details on waivers below.

Students are expected to complete these courses by the end of their 5th quarter in the program or file a petition. See Qualifying Evaluation Requirements for more details, including expectations around grades, logistics for demonstrating completion, and more.

Coursework requirements for earning a Masters degree: 

    • Fulfillment of all Quals course requirements.

    • A Master’s or Ph.D. level Pass of the Qualifying Evaluation

    • Completion of at least 18 graded 500-level credits at the University of Washington.

Coursework requirements for scheduling the General Exam (i.e., completion of Breadth coursework): 

    • Successful completion of at least 5 Breadth Courses, including courses from at least 3 of the 4 Groups by the end of the student’s third year in the program (and before scheduling the General Exam). An exception to this timeline may be granted through a General Exam deadline extension petition. Students may waive at at most one of these courses. And;

    • Completion of at least 18 graded 500-level credits at the University of Washington.

Overall Degree Requirements

  • 90 credits overall with a cumulative GPA of 3.0, At least:

    • 60 of these credits must be earned at the University of Washington prior to scheduling the General Exam.

    • 40 credits must be in 500 level courses or above.

    • 27 credits must be Computer Science 800 (dissertation).

    • 45 credits minimum must be from the Computer Science & Engineering curriculum.

    • 15 credits may be in supporting fields, such as: engineering, mathematics, natural sciences, business administration, linguistics, philosophy, psychology, or medicine.

  • Successful completion of at least 7 Breadth and CSE++ Courses as described above.  Students may waive at most one Breadth Course and at most two courses total.

  • Coursework taken toward the M.S. degree is applicable toward the Ph.D degree.


During a student’s first year in the program, they may submit a petition to waive up to two courses equivalent in substance to any of the courses in the Breadth and CSE++ Lists  that they have already taken at the graduate level, or in which they have comparable experience. Note that the prior course need not be equivalent in content to one of the courses listed above but rather in substance: a student who has done excellent work in an intellectually rigorous graduate course on a computer science topic that we happen not to teach may be granted a course waiver. 

At most one of these waivers may be applied towards fulfilling the Breadth coursework requirements. However, even with a waiver, students must take at least 3 UW CSE graduate courses from the Breadth Course list before Quals. (If a student is granted two waivers, the second may be applied towards fulfilling the remaining coursework requirements.)

The Allen School will not consider waivers for non-CSE graduate courses, except in rare circumstances. 

These petitions will be considered by the Quals Committee, a committee appointed by the Allen School Director. The outcome of the petition process will be decided based on information the committee collects on the prior course and a student’s performance in it. The Quals Committee may ask appropriate instructors for assistance in this decision. If appropriate, the Quals Committee may recommend a course substitution rather than outright waiver. All petition decisions go into a student’s file for reference at the Qualifying Evaluation.

TA Requirement

Part of completing a CSE Ph.D. involves the completion of two quarters of teaching assistantship within the school.  For further information on becoming a TA or the associated funding arrangements, please refer to the following sites:

  1. TA home page.  The Graduate TA section details appointment policy, roles and responsibilities, remuneration, and how to apply. Contact Pim Lustig, TA Advisor, for specific information.

  2. TA/RA Funding Policies.  This page provides basic information on TA and RA funding and CSE policies on summer funding and funding options in the event of NSF (or other) awards and fellowships.